Category Archives: random thoughts

Power to the Peachful

Ok, so I’ve struggled growing good peaches in Oakland. I had a Muir and one with a number from some field station. After three years, I got only 5 peaches. And the taste? Meh. A little bitter. A little mealy. Not the ecstasy that a peach should stir up. So I yanked the peach tree (I’m a bruiser), and sent it up to Chico, with a friend there, who might get better peaches in a hotter climate. But I did feel a certain…lack. Peaches, peaches, peaches–they are my favorite summer fruit. And so, I turned to adoption.

Yes, you can adopt a peach tree. I had read David Mas Masumoto’s book, Epitaph for a Peach, about his struggles as a family farmer trying to grow heirloom fruit that isn’t exactly “shippable”. And I was delighted to find out he and his family offer peach tree adoption. Now, if I’m going to adopt a tree, Masumoto’s is the place where I’d like to make that happen. It’s a solution for a problem they have as small-scale growers–we give them money up front for the chance to pick the fruit of a one of their trees.

The process required coming up with a name for our group–my buddy Zach came up with Power to the Peachful, and telling the family what we would do with the fruit. Our list included salsa, ice cream, peach liquor, canned peaches with rum. This all went down around March. The picking would happen in late July/early August.

Now I’m a bit of a literalist. I thought I would be sent images of baby fuzzy peaches, and given gushing reports about my tree’s health (I also thought the money I sent to Heifer went straight to that goat for a family, but that’s another story). In reality, I found out we would be adopting a tree, and then I promptly forgot. Then July hit, and we got word that picking would happen July 18 and July 25.

The farm is outside Fresno, picking started after orientation, one at 7:30am, another at 8:30. Our posse decided to camp outside of Fresno the night before. (Kelly’s Resort, check it out next time you are on the 99). The Masumoto’s had told us to be early because it’s hot in the Central Valley, and that we would be given boxes and brunch. Yay!

We drove in two separate cars because we needed a car to take home all our fruits. We were on our way to the farm at 7am. Our pals were driving behind us, following us to the farm, when we suddenly heard a giant explosion. I looked back and saw our friend’s car moving in a weird way, and the stuff we had just touched–a coffee pot, a lantern–shattered onto the busy street, and then cars ran over them, making a huge racket. Somehow their car was up on the median. I jumped out of our car and ran toward our friend’s car. The car was totaled. Mangled. And it was one of those heavy metal cars that don’t injure easily. The semi-truck that hit them was up the road a bit. I said the thing everyone says in this situation, even though it is moronic: Are you ok? They nodded and got out of their car. At that moment, seeing my friends alive in all that twisted metal was the best thing that had ever happened to me. We got them out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Strangers stopped to give them water. The cops came. Ambulance and firemen. I went to the car and got everything out of it. We would never see this car again, I thought. It would stay in Fresno. I got my friends purse, eyeglasses. Cowboy coffee had spilled everywhere in the car. I got all the cassette tapes out of the glovebox and popped the tape out of the radio. I worked methodically, it calmed my nerves, which were screaming: they almost died!! They are ok! They almost died! they are ok! Picking up the wreckage made me feel like I could at least do something while they gave the policemen their report. “You should buy a lottery ticket,” the cop said, “because you should be dead. Today you are very lucky.”

And I’ll admit it, my brain also thought, besides worrying about my friends: all those peaches. We would go home. We had to just go home and not pick peaches. But after the car was towed away, and we packed all their salvagable stuff into our car, my friend looked at his watch: “We can make the 8:30 orientation! Let’s go!” And so we did. And the farm was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, not because it was actually physically beautiful (it’s neat and the trees are lovely, and they are peach trees full of fruit but it’s pretty flat and non-descript) but because we were alive, goddamit and we were there to pick the peaches. The Masumoto’s were also the most beautiful family I had ever seen–so giving, so kind and concerned about our friends and our group.

And so we picked. It turned out we had twins. The peaches were Elberta’s. Heavy and yellow. Dense. Golden. We got to climb orchard ladders and get every last fruit off those trees. We picked 16 boxes. A kindly man told us he would take our peaches to Berkeley, where he lived, and we could pick them up later.


We ate a delicious meal in the orchard. We were alive, laughing and talking. Then all the groups who had assembled there were told that the Masumotos were throwing in an Le Grand nectarine tree into our adoptive families. So we picked another dozen boxes of nectarines. They tasted like mangoes and sunlight.


Another truck said they’d drop the nectarines at my place in Oakland. We were blessed. There are only a few times in life when such grace can happen, when you feel like yes, you are special and lucky, and that was what that day felt like.

Now, back at home, I’ve just started the fruit processing odyssey. So far, I’ve made nectarines in syrup, nectarine and mulberry jam, peach ice cream, peach pie, and dehydrated peaches. As I slice the peaches, I think of my friends, who are bruised but happy, and I think they are the most amazing people I’ve ever met. When I asked them, “why did we go pick peaches after that accident?” They explained, “We didn’t drive down to Fresno to get in a car accident and go home; we drove to Fresno to pick peaches.” And ain’t that what life is all about?


Speaking of amazing people, there’s a movie about the Masumoto family! It’s showing at SPUR this Wednesday, August 5th. I’m told it’s sold out–so let’s ask SPUR to have another screening!!

Hope the rest of your summer is peachy: next up is an blogpost about my field trips of the hacked version of Early Girl tomatoes, called Dirty Girls. I’m going to do a side-by-side taste test.

Why I Am Growing a Garden This Season

The drought. We are all trying to save water. I haven’t bathed in weeks. I barely flush the toilet. But dammit, I am growing a garden this year. Why?

Because I’m part of a farm tour.

Just joking.

I’m growing my own vegetables this year this year precisely because there is a drought. 80% of a California’s water is used for big agricultural operations. Almonds. Grapes. Oranges. Rice. All water hogs–and much of the harvest is sold overseas. By planting a diverse garden that will feed local people, I am saying: this is the scale that is sustainable.

Small farms care about tending their soil, building their soil. One of the biggest benefits of healthy soil is less run-off during irrigation. In Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary, Symphony of the Soil, scientists at the Rodale Institute showed that conventional agricultural-use soil doesn’t retain water, it just runs off, causing erosion and making the soil saline. But in organic or deeply mulched soils, that water is held in the soil, to be better accessed by the plants’ roots.

A small urban farm can also draw upon local resources in order to water–eg the washing machine. It’s legal to use washing machine water in your garden if these 12 guidelines are followed. You don’t need a permit. We use a special laundry soap (Oasis) so we can water our fruit trees with washing machine water. Our household of six people does about 3 loads a week, meaning 120/gallons a week go toward watering our 29 fruit trees.

There’s also a method called dry farming–basically torturing your poor tomatoes, squash and potatoes by withholding water. But as a salty old French grape farmer told me once, “We make our grapes suffer, and they taste better for it.” Same principle with your veg: mulch and add compost to your veggies, water the plant until it sets fruit, then stop watering completely. You’ll get a smaller yield, but better tasting produce. Note that this will only work if the plant can reach way down into the deep soil–it doesn’t work for container gardening.

Ok, that’s my spiel–what are you doing to save water, and garden at the same time?

P.S. This Sunday, May 31, I’m on a panel for Oakland first Book Festival!! 1:30 at Laurel Books in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Come on by, I’ll be giving away some plant starts.

Denver Report

Howdy, just took a quick trip to Denver. I was invited by Lisa Rogers of Feed Denver, an urban farming organization that was putting on a conference for folks in Denver growing food in the city. I was blown away by some of the urban farmers I met. It’s always so humbling and fun to meet some fellow dirt grubbers. We have many of the same troubles and triumphs.

Here’s Lisa, a farmer from Seattle named Patrick, and Steve, a farmer at 5 Fridges Farm.

5 Fridges was really cool. Steve uses 1.5 acres of a 13 acre nature preserve (yes, in Denver city limits) to grow a CSA for 70 families!! Holy bio-intensive planting. Besides veg, they also had goats and chickens.
And they had built a commercial kitchen that they were going to rent out for classes and pickling sessions.

One of the big problems in Denver is the dang land is so expensive! I was shocked to hear about the high rents and property values. Some of it is that Denver is having a boom, partially driven by the legalization of recreational pot. Seems like every warehouse was growing the stuff, and so there are fewer places to live so rent is high. Denver rents were as high as those in Oakland/SF!! It actually made me worry about what will happen when (if?) California passes recreational pot legislation. Will it be another giant land grab? Sadly, one of the oldest urban gardens in Denver–Gabrielle’s Garden, run by UrbiCulture Community Farms–has to relocate because developers are selling the land for $3 million dollars. It reminded me of Hayes Valley Farm (RIP).

But then there was good news, too. I met a husband and wife team who have 7 acres of family land in Denver that they are cultivating. Everitt Farms is hoping to become a community center and market, selling produce and flowers.

The scale, the wide open spaces, the potential–that is Denver.

Left My Soul in Europe

I am so jetlegged. I’ve heard it’s because my soul hasn’t caught up with my physical body. Might be that I took a 2.9 year old with me to Italy/France. I was there in Italy to take part in a conference put on by an Italian magazine called Internationale. They paid for me to go and put me up in a hotel, and paid for all my food. Yum. Still dreaming of this slipper like pasta filled with the local winter squash, Violina, I think was the variety. Forgot to take seeds home with me. (Good thing, I was searched at customs and for once didn’t have any contraband cheese on my person).

Also got to hang with my sister, flew over to Toulouse and stayed at their awesome house/farmstead.
It was quality sister time: we went mushroom picking, gardened together, and she fed me obscene amounts of food.

Glad to be back home, doing my thing, though. Which, btw, will involve a reading with LitQuake Thursday, Oct 16, at the Lake Chalet in Oakland 6-8pm.
And October 17th I’ll be at the Oakland Museum of California, at 7pm in the Natural history display of a Tule Elk. Here’s the link for that event.
Finally, October 18, I’ll be in Hayward for this:
California Reads: A visit with bestselling author Novella Carpenter, discussing her new memoir Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad Through the Wild – Saturday, October 18, 2:00 pm @ Hayward Main Library. Find complete California Reads schedule at:


Tonight: Me and the Kraz

Sorry for for the short notice, but I’ll be at Dominican University tonight at 7pm in conversation with Michael Krasny. We’re going to be talking about my first book, Farm City, which was selected as this year’s One Book, One Marin read. The event is in the Angelico Concert Hall. Good times! Take a hike, then come on over to Dominican.

Oh no family emergency

Sorry everyone, have to cancel Friday and Saturday’s open farm. My dad is sick and I am flying to Idaho tomorrow.